Transferring data via photons isn’t as outlandish as it might sound — LiFi, a technology that’s already spawned a handful of commercial products, taps modulating visible, infrared, or ultraviolet light sources to broadcast bits over the air to USB or integrated receivers. It’s far from as ubiquitous as Wi-Fi, but one company — France- and Abu Dhabi-based Oledcomm — is teaming up with Air France to deploy it on planes.
At the second annual Global LiFi Congress in Paris this week, Oledcomm, along with collaborators Latécoère Group, Université Paul Sabatier, and DGAC, unveiled a LiFi product designed for aircraft cruising at 30,000 feet. It’s built on the LiFiMax technology that Oledcomm announced early this year during the Consumer Electronics Show, and can theoretically deliver 100Mbps per seat — an improvement over the previous LiFi standard’s maximum speed of 23Mbps.
Back in January, Oledcomm claimed that its prototypical LiFiMax transmitter, which measures about 4 inches in diameter and an inch thick, was the most powerful device of its kind, with support for up to 16 simultaneous connections, a maximum range of 92 feet, and location accuracy of ten centimeters.
“LiFi is ideal for the aerospace industry and it enables us to show we are no longer at the research stage but are already creating high added value business applications,” said Oledcomm chairman Benjamin Azoulay in a statement. “LiFiMax is the result of more than 10 years of research. We have worked to create a product based on the new communication standards and offer companies unprecedented security and speed in wireless internet.”
Oledcomm says that LiFiMax will soon be available on unspecified Air France routes, but it’s unclear whether passengers will have to purchase compatible receivers to take advantage. Oledcomm intends to sell a LiFiMax bundle later this year that will include a transmitter and a single receiver, starting at $900. (A five-dongle LiFiMax Office will be available for an undisclosed price.) That’s more economical than Oledcomm’s $840 LiFi desk lamp, but not by much — especially considering mesh Wi-Fi routers like Google Wi-Fi top out around $130.
French researcher Suat Topsu and colleagues pioneered LiFi in 2005, and seven years later, Topsu founded Oledcomm and served as president until Azoulay, who previously worked on the launch of the Philips Hue, took over the role. LiFi’s proponents argue that it’s inherently more secure than Bluetooth or Wi-Fi because light can’t penetrate through walls and other obstacles, and that it’s well-suited to environments where minimizing wireless interference is paramount.